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The Rise of Conscious Consumerism: A Game Plan for Sellers

In her book Dear Sisters: Your Nature is to Bloom, entrepreneur Ashley Asti said:

“When you buy a product, you don’t just buy the product: you buy everything that company stands for.”

What she’s talking about is the idea of “voting with your wallet.” We all have a responsibility to support ethical companies. Giving even one dollar to an exploitative company has a direct negative impact on our world.

This concept is conscious consumerism.

Who are conscious consumers and why should you care about them as an e-commerce seller?

In this article, we’ll dig into:

  • What Is Conscious Consumerism?
  • Why E-commerce Sellers Should Care About Conscious Consumerism
  • How to Sell to Conscious Consumers: A Game Plan for Retailers
  • What Are the Barriers to Conscious Consumerism?
  • Leave Your Mark on the World We Share

What Is Conscious Consumerism?

Conscious consumerism is the practice of making purchasing decisions based on your values and beliefs. This approach is all about choosing products that are produced sustainably and ethically — in a way that’s good long-term for our communities and the environment.

The History of Conscious Consumerism

While signs in coffee shops about fair-trade beans might seem like a trend that’s surfaced in the past couple of decades, the concept of ethical consumerism actually has a long, rich history in the US.

The notion can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution when people began to become aware of the negative impact mass production had on workers and the environment.

In the 1820s, groups of Quakers and free Black abolitionists led the “free produce” movement — encouraging people to steer clear of products made with slave labor, and buy free-made goods instead.

Over the next two centuries, the popularity of conscious consumerism would ebb and flow. In the 1960s and 70s, a renewed interest in social justice and environmentalism led to the rise of movements supporting organic food and fair trade.

These movements created a market for socially- and environmentally-conscious products and paved the way for a huge wave of support in the 90s, which is still growing today.

Why E-commerce Sellers Should Care About Conscious Consumerism

What does this widespread conscious consumption mean for you as an e-commerce seller? If you haven’t thought about this before, don’t panic. Millennials and Gen Z have made sure that consumer activism is here to stay.

Research conducted by Harris Poll revealed that 82% of shoppers prefer a consumer brand’s values to align with their own. And 75% reported parting ways with a brand over a conflict in values.

According to a survey by supply chain company Blue Yonder, consumers are more committed to environmental sustainability than ever:

  • 48% said their interest in shopping sustainably increased in the past six months
  • 86% are willing to delay their shipping for sustainability
  • 77% have changed (or considered changing) their loyalty to sustainable brands

Sellers who embrace conscious consumerism can tap into these growing markets to increase profits, build customer trust, and boost brand loyalty.

How to Sell to Conscious Consumers: A Game Plan for Brands

You have opportunities to embrace conscious consumerism throughout your supply chain, from source to sale and beyond. Here are five areas where your brand can meet the expectations of the conscious consumer — and make a difference where it matters most.

Sourcing

Selling to conscious consumers starts at the source. Some e-commerce strategies hinge on sourcing the cheapest products and materials no matter where they’re from. But for conscious shoppers, they’re generally willing to pay a little bit more to purchase a sustainably sourced product.

To find ethical and sustainable suppliers, you must become a conscious consumer yourself:

  • Nail down your brand’s values and priorities. What do you stand for? What will your brand personas appreciate?
  • Do your research to find partners that align with those values. For example, if one of your core values is paying workers a living wage, you must look for a supplier that’s also committed to doing so.
  • Build relationships with your suppliers so you can stay updated on their sustainable and ethical practices.

Example we love: Natural soap and essential oils seller Atheava has embedded its values throughout its entire value chain. Its products are produced by a cooperative of 50 rural women from the Indian village of Neev. This process empowers employees, brings them out of poverty, and if that’s not enough — everything is made with plants and herbs from Co-Founder Shikha Jain’s garden and runs 100% on solar.

Packaging and Shipping

If you’ve ever felt a twinge of guilt after opening a huge box and removing wads of filler for a tiny item you bought online — you’re a conscious consumer. For folks who care about environmental impacts, packaging and shipping are some of the most obvious ways to identify brands that don’t care about it.

Here’s how you can get it right:

  • Use recycled packaging materials to reduce the amount of waste going into your shipping process.
  • Use minimal packaging. Conscious consumers don’t want brand-colored confetti or four separate flyers promoting your different product lines.
  • Choose sustainable shipping options. Ship multiple products in the same package when possible, and be sure to partner with a carrier that’s committed to reducing carbon emissions.
  • Offer free and easy returns. Even behemoths like Amazon work to cut back on packaging and trucks on the roads with return drop-offs at UPS Stores and Kohl’s. 

Example we love: Jaden Smith’s Just Water comes in two packaging options: A plant-based carton that creates up to 74% less carbon emissions than similarly-sized plastic bottles, and an “infinitely recyclable” aluminum can. Like Jaden, many of us have been shocked by images of plastic bottles and other debris littering our oceans — which could inspire those with some financial wiggle room to pay a premium for sustainable products.

Marketing

When it comes to marketing to ethical consumers, it’s all about one word: transparency

It’s crucial to be transparent with your customers about where your products come from, how they’re made, and how they’re shipped. Ultimately, your customer wants to know where their dollars are going and what they’re supporting.

Here’s how to market to conscious consumers in an authentic way:

  • Highlight your business’s values without being performative. People are moved by stories more than facts and statistics (though you can use both in your marketing!). Use storytelling to show your customers how you’re making a positive impact in the areas that matter to them.
  • Shoppers have spoken and they still love shopping local and small91% of Americans have shopped at a small business in the past week. Get in front of these potential customers by optimizing your Amazon presence for local small business search. If you have a physical store, make it easy for customers to find your Google Business Profile.
  • Social media is the great equalizer. Big or small, growing e-commerce brands can use social to build lasting customer relationships. Use these channels to share your customer stories and educate your followers about your values.

Example we love: Authentic Irish accessory seller Biddy Murphy is an Amazon-certified small business. Its Amazon storefront prominently shows off the business’s Irish heritage with a mixture of product photos and imagery of the beautiful country. In a video in the “Our Story” section of the store, the company’s founder explains why he founded the company: “I saw things in catalogs with a shamrock slapped on it, passed off as Irish.”

Community Building

From social issues to humanitarian efforts, a cause brings people together. By taking a stand for your chosen values, you can position yourself at the center of a community — and potential customer base.

To build your community of conscious consumers, try these ideas:

  • Create a social media group. You can use this forum to share news, answer questions, and get feedback.
  • Host events, virtual or in-person. This could be anything from a meet-up to a workshop centered around your cause.
  • Partner with other conscious brands on either of the above to mutually grow your reach — and awareness for your cause.

Example we love: By nature, the cosmetics industry lends itself well to both social causes (inclusivity, body positivity) and community building (product reviews, brand advocates). And skincare brand Glow Recipe is right there at the intersection of it all. They’ve built out a robust brand community called The Glow Edit including tutorial videos, product recommendation quizzes, and their very own “Glowipedia” resource.

Supporting Social Causes

Supporting causes and giving back to your community are excellent ways to make a difference and build your reputation as a values-driven business.

Here’s how a for-profit business like yours can make a splash with social responsibility:

  • Donate to charities. You could donate a portion of your profits, commit to regular donations, or adopt a buy-one-give-one model (think Tom’s). Be sure to thoroughly vet the charity to ensure they’ll use your donation wisely and avoid reputational risk.
  • Volunteer your time and talents with aligned organizations. The defaults, like soup kitchens and animal shelters, are always great — but you can also think outside the box. Perhaps your CFO could spend a few hours per week helping a local nonprofit find ways to lower their overhead.
  • Be sure to share these stories in authentic ways, like partnering with the nonprofit on social posts that bring awareness to the cause.

Example we love: Tulia’s Artisan Gallery shines a light on high-quality Colombian craftsmanship. They run on fair trade principles and donate a portion of each sale back to Indigenous-led projects throughout Colombia. Pop over to their Instagram page for a delightful mix of photos of the artisans, information about their cause, and happy customer reviews.

What Are the Barriers to Conscious Consumerism?

We’ve established that most people (82% of them, anyway) want to support responsible companies whose values align with theirs. So what’s holding them back?

Being a conscious consumer is not the path of least resistance. The right purchase often isn’t the cheapest, most convenient, or quickest option. It’s a huge effort for buyers to research and parse out which brands and products sit well with their conscience.

To make things even harder, greenwashing is more rampant than ever. Even if a company claims to be sustainable, consumers need significant proof to believe that claim.That’s why, if your business does support your customer base’s values, it’s so important to make them central to your brand’s identity — from supply chain to marketing.

Leave Your Mark on the World We Share

Selling to conscious consumers isn’t just about heartwarming ad campaigns. It’s about genuinely committing to your causes, then following through with transparent and authentic messaging to consumers.

Just like the conscious consumerism path isn’t easy for your customers, it’s not easy for e-commerce sellers. You’ll also have to invest time, attention, and resources in providing ethical choices.

But those investments have a return beyond measure: Your brand can play a part in leaving our world a little better than you found it. 

Whether it’s reducing your carbon footprint or increasing your profit margins to give back, at SellersFi, we’re committed to helping e-commerce brands move the needle on what matters to them. Check out our suite of financial solutions, including Working Capital to fund your next high-impact project.

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